When you drink alcohol, you feel the need to urinate more often. Alcohol is also a known diuretic, so it can give you diarrhea. These effects are short term.
Light to moderate drinking isn’t likely to have much lasting impact on your digestive excretory system. Heavy drinking is the problem.
In 2017, more than a quarter of Americans (ages 18 and older) drank heavily in the prior month, according to a national survey. Regular heavy drinking can make it difficult for your excretory system to work properly. A buildup of alcohol and its metabolites in your system can cause a wide range of problems that can be deadly if left untreated.
Functions of the Excretory System
The digestive excretory system keeps the body stable by helping to eliminate waste, namely from things you eat and drink. The digestive excretory system then helps to excrete liquids from the body that it isn’t going to use (unnecessary material) through urine.
The excretory system is made up of four main components.
- Two kidneys: These organs filter your blood, regulate blood pressure, make red blood cells, balance the chemical and mineral makeup of your body, and remove excess fluid and waste through urine.
- Two ureters: These tubes are connected to the kidneys. They move urine away from the kidneys to the bladder.
- Bladder: This organ collects and stores urine.
- Urethra: This tube is connected to the bladder. It moves urine out of the body.
The Impact of Alcohol & Drugs on the Excretory System
When you take drugs or drink alcohol, your digestive system helps to break down and metabolize these toxins. Then, the excretory system works to expel them. Commonly abused drugs can interfere with the normal functions of your digestive excretory system in specific ways.
- Cocaine can cause kidney damage and renal failure.
- Benzodiazepines can cause kidney damage through a breakdown of the muscles.
- MDMA, Molly, or ecstasy can trigger dehydration and hyperthermia, which can lead to kidney failure.
- Methamphetamine creates difficulties with kidney filtration, which can cause a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream.
- Opioids can cause muscle breakdown, kidney damage, and kidney failure.
The Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Digestive System
Alcohol is primarily filtered through the liver. Unlike other things that you eat and drink, it is directly absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that the kidneys will have to work overtime to try and pull the toxic metabolites that alcohol creates out of the system.
When you drink a lot of alcohol, two main things can happen. It can either cause a backlog in your system, leading to infection or sepsis, or it can cause your body to remove the liquids too fast, causing malnourishment and/or dehydration.
Alcohol enters your bloodstream quickly and can start impacting your mind and body within 10 minutes of taking a drink. Your liver can only metabolize a little alcohol at a time, and the rest remains in your bloodstream for the time being.
Short-term effects of alcohol on your excretory system include:
- More frequent urination.
- Heightened blood pressure.
- Inflammation of the bladder.
In the case of excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol poisoning, Mayo Clinic warns that severe dehydration, seizures, hypothermia, irregular breathing and heart rate, brain damage, choking, and loss of consciousness can occur. An alcohol overdose can be fatal, often due to stroke or heart attack.
Most people who drink do so in moderation. Heavy or excessive drinking can cause a lot of issues socially, personally, emotionally, and physically. Heavy drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as 15 or more drinks a week for a man and 8 or more drinks in a week for a woman.
Binge drinking is a type of excessive drinking that raises your BAC (blood alcohol content) to above the legal limit of 0.08%. Usually, this means five drinks for a man (four drinks for a woman) in a two-hour time period. Regularly binge drinking can wreak havoc on your brain and body.
Alcohol can build up in the body, which can lead to infection or sepsis. When your kidneys can’t filter out alcohol through urine quickly enough, it can back up, causing inflammation and infection. An untreated infection can then lead to sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
As a diuretic, alcohol can also lead to dehydration and an imbalance of important minerals, nutrients, and electrolytes. This can cause unhealthy weight loss and malnutrition.
Other potential long-term effects of heavy drinking on your digestive excretory system can include:
- Kidney stones.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Inflammation of the lining of the bladder and GI tract in general.
- Kidney damage and possible failure.
- Irregular blood pressure.
- Lowered immune system function.
Reversing the Damage
The CDC warns that binge drinking can cause acute kidney failure, but the damage can often be reversed if you stop drinking and allow your kidneys time to heal. Depending on how long and how much you drank, this recovery timeline can vary.
Some of the damage can be irreversible, however. Regular heavy drinking doubles your risk for chronic kidney disease. This risk quadruples if you also smoke.
Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, and regular heavy drinking can cause chronic high blood pressure. This is another risk factor for kidney disease.
Kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. You may then need to endure regular kidney dialysis to filter your blood and keep things properly balanced, or undergo a kidney transplant. Heavy drinking can make it hard for you to qualify for a kidney transplant.
Need for Treatment
Alcohol is a social beverage, and it’s seemingly everywhere in society. Again, it’s generally safe to drink in moderation.
Regular heavy drinking can lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD), however. This is a treatable brain disease. About 16 million people in the United States struggle with an AUD, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) publishes.
You may need treatment for alcohol abuse if you:
- Regularly drink more than you intended.
- Are unable to stop drinking once you start.
- Have cravings for alcohol.
- Have tried several times to stop drinking, or cut back, and been unable to do so.
- Spend a lot of time drinking, thinking or talking about drinking, deciding how and when you are going to get your next drink, and recovering from alcohol’s effects.
- Find alcohol gets in the way of your job, family obligations, or schoolwork.
- Give up social or other activities that were important to you before in order to drink instead.
- Keep drinking even though you know it is going to have negative emotional, health, and/or social problems.
- Find the amount of alcohol you used to drink doesn’t impact you the same way, and you need to drink more to feel its effects.
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when alcohol wears off. These may include restlessness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, shakiness, fatigue, irritability, sweating, and appetite changes.
- Keep drinking even though it is causing problems in your life.
- Get into situations that are physically risky because of drinking. Examples include driving while drunk, having unsafe sex, or getting into situations that could cause accident or injury.
Reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can positively impact your body and brain, and allow your excretory system a chance to health. Get help to stop heavy drinking and give your digestive system the best chances of a full recovery.